PAINTINGS

My paintings are a taphonomic study of the “American Dream” and the Western concept of progress, especially scientific and societal progress. I use an American Art Deco aesthetic, images of the habitat dioramas in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and my own historic and scientific research and personal experience in order to entrench the viewer in nostalgia while critically deconstructing the assumptions and delusions that are crucial to these ideas. These include but are not limited to colonialism, sexism, ethical questions concerning museums, and the limitations of science. The early 20th century African dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are presented in my paintings as a paradoxically artificial, idealized world meant to scientifically represent reality. I am deeply intrigued by the myriad of paradoxes they present: stunningly beautiful scenes made from toxic and decaying animal skins, scientifically accurate exhibits born of non-scientific methods, and the inherent killing and display of the very animals that the dioramas aimed to preserve and protect through promotion of conservation. The dioramas themselves are childhood images for me as I was born in New York City and essentially grew up in AMNH, going in to work with my mother and father in the Mammalogy Department. I have also worked as a preparator and diorama painter in the Exhibition Department at AMNH, during which I learned traditional diorama creation techniques from seasoned preparators, and am now a Ph.D. student who conducts scientific research at AMNH while continuing to create fine art. Each of my paintings involves a combination of the traditional AMNH diorama process from the Edwardian/Art Deco era with my own aesthetic choices and techniques. The essential process of each painting involves creating and transferring a detailed drawing, laying in a richly textured underpainting in mars red, painting in areas of light with an opaque lead white, and in some cases glazing thin layers of color over the entire image. Throughout the process I plaster miscellaneous notes, photos, and images onto the border of the image. The overall effect is one of several layers of paint and paper that appear to have decayed and tarnished over a longer length of time. Each painting forces the viewer to ask what is truly real and meaningful, and highlights the modern relevance of the dioramas themselves—especially as symbols of the glamorized, deteriorating ideal of the “American Dream.”